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Thread: Ferals

  1. #1
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    Default Ferals

    Is there any evidence (other than anecdotal) that ferals are becoming more prevalent again? ie, longer term ferals which are not derived from recently escaped swarms from managed stock.
    If ferals are becoming more prevalent it implies that mite tolerance is improving.

    A fairly recent study (2009) which looked at genetic diversity in Europe found no difference between the genetics of wild colonies in nature reserves and the genetics of managed colonies in the area. The paper did imply that there were more ferals in the US.

    Estimating the Density of Honeybee Colonies across Their Natural Range to Fill the Gap in Pollinator Decline Censuses
    RODOLFO JAFFé et al.

    Restricting the analysis to Europe, however, erased the significant effect of land use, making agricultural landscapes and nature reserves indistinguishable in terms of genetic diversity or colony density.
    Another explanation for the lack of a difference in genetic diversity and colony densities between agricultural landscapes and nature reserves in Europe is that wild honeybee populations may be absent from nature reserves. For instance, we did not detect a higher number of colonies in most European sampling locations compared with those kept by local beekeepers.
    One of the main aims of the Native Irish Honeybee Society Varroa monitoring project is to select and promote varroa tolerance in the honeybee native to Ireland (Apis mellifera mellifera) with a long term view to seeing feral colonies reestablished.
    At the moment, all I ever see is recently escaped swarms which have taken up residence in a chimney or behind the cladding below the roof of a house.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Ferals

    Dr. Tom Seeley of Cornell University in NY talked briefly about feral colonies at a recent seminar; he had been monitoring feral hives within a 3 sq. mile area with 2 managed hives northeast and southwest of this area. The mating between the feral colonies and managed colonies was low; unfortunately my brain was on burnout by the time he related this part of his discourse so I dont remember anymore of his talk and didnt take notes on this subject. I would recommend contacting him or someone else close to him for any references to his studies.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Ferals

    I was at one of his presentations about 3 years ago and he is the keynote speaker at the main bee conference in Ireland in July so I should catch up with him there.
    I know his Arnot Forest paper but the data in that is over ten years old now and things may have changed.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Ferals

    They are pretty prevalent where I live.
    NM desert/mountain beekeeper - Black Mesa Honeybees.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Ferals

    One idea is that different types of bees may breed (virgins fly) at somewhat different times of the year, enough so AMM and others don't interbreed very much. Or there may be other, more complicated reasons why feral bee genetics don't get into the mix as much. With regional variations on the theme.
    Beekeeping - a form of magic that weaves together two elements: wood and bees.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Ferals

    Ferals are all over here too. I've only captured 1 swarm (out of 50+) that were noticably 'bigger' bees, and they were very light colored. Everything I catch is smaller, darker stock. The largest cells I have measured built by swarms or from cutouts I have done is 5.1 mm averaged across 10 brood cells. My whole apiary consists of stock built from captured swarms/cutouts.
    Zone 5a @ 4700 ft. High Desert
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  7. #7
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    Default Re: Ferals

    Yep, small and dark. Pretty much the story of my life around here. Most are pretty manageable. Every so often I run into some with too much African in them and they get a new queen. Rwurster, I would suspect you are too far North to get much hybridization with this sort of genetics. It intrigues me that most of the ferals are now pretty dark.
    NM desert/mountain beekeeper - Black Mesa Honeybees.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Ferals

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul McCarty View Post
    It intrigues me that most of the ferals are now pretty dark.
    I have noticed that in Ohio, too. A few years ago (maybe 3?) I would have said our ferals looked more like Italian bees. Now, they appear much more Carniolan, or even black. I've heard that yellow banding is a recessive trait, but have no proof to back up that statement.
    Pete. New 2013, 7 hives, zone 6a
    To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Ferals

    I know there has been mention that genetically the AMM eventually overtakes all other traits and they regress. I have heard several old timers on here speak of this. This is the very thing that happens with Africanization too, as eventually the AMM'ish traits push the others into the genetic background when the Africans hybridze in temperate climates. In the more tropical regions, these same AMM traits would be pushed aside as the African traits become prominent again. This has been observed in past research (I am sure someone will want to see links to it - can't remember them at the moment).

    My theory is that if you leave honeybees (whatever type they are - doesn't matter) they will all eventually regress to a more climate adapted dark bee type as the USA is colder in most places than semi-tropical, and not really the true climate of a more Italian type of lighter honeybee. So - in the end they all become feral dark bee mutts.

    I know there are several here from other countries - I cannot speak for them. I have no experience anywhere else. I would be curious to see what their ferals are like.
    NM desert/mountain beekeeper - Black Mesa Honeybees.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Ferals

    Quote Originally Posted by jonathan View Post
    I was at one of his presentations about 3 years ago and he is the keynote speaker at the main bee conference in Ireland in July so I should catch up with him there.
    I know his Arnot Forest paper but the data in that is over ten years old now and things may have changed.
    He recently said to me that he believes that the Arnot Forest Bees aren't crossing w/ managed colonies from outside the forest. A paper on that should be forthcoming w/in the year.
    Mark Berninghausen "That which works, persists."

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Ferals

    Quote Originally Posted by Chemguy View Post
    I have noticed that in Ohio, too. A few years ago (maybe 3?) I would have said our ferals looked more like Italian bees. Now, they appear much more Carniolan, or even black. I've heard that yellow banding is a recessive trait, but have no proof to back up that statement.
    Yellow abdomen colour is actually dominant over black. There is a paper by Jerzy Woyke which explains it chapter and verse. It is a polygenic trait and there are several major genes involved and others which act as modifiers.

    International Symposium on bee biology,
    MOSCOW, USSR, August 1976
    THE HEREDITY OF COLOUR PATTERNS IN THE HONEYBEE
    Jerzy Woyke

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Ferals

    Multiple "nature" reserves and parks in the western US have surveyed honeybee populations in high detail as part of the decision making process as to whether they will attempt to exterminate them. The logic (a la Santa Cruz Island) is that the HB are non-native interlopers and suppress native bee populations and promote European weed seed fertility.

    One might ask the researchers for their survey data. I know an active census (of wild native bees and evil HB) is occurring at Pinnacles National Monument in San Benito County. The names of the native-bee research grad students are easily determined.

    I have a swarm trap site on a pipe-stem road in the Ventana Wilderness. (160,000 acres of roadless Coast Range). These bees are abundant on the summer flowering Ceanothus-- a loud buzz fills the canyons in July. They have zero natural resistance to Varroa. Part of my general skepticism of the annecdotes of the TF advocates derives from my failure to observe any genetic resistance in these huge feral reservoirs (and alternatively, in isolated populations of oasis bees in the desert). How do they survive==I would guess by swarming, swarming, swarming.

    Something that Easterners and Europeans don't appreciate is the scale of the landscape in the West. There can be square mile after square mile of uninhabited-by-people land. Some of the empty space has well distributed colonies of ferals -- likely millions and millions of colonies across the west with minimal interaction with the humans.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Ferals

    I'm in eastern, upstate NY. All three of my hives were from swarms to my barns in June 2013. They swamed to cavities that (up until the Spring of 2013) had been more or less continuously occupied (though not necessarily by the same colony) for twenty years by unmanaged/feral bees. I knew they were there, but never messed with them.

    One of my hives has surprisingly low to no mites, at least so far. (I monitor pretty much continuously.) The other two had more typical levels. The low-mite hive just looks different from the other two: darker, smaller and with markedly more pointy-abdomened workers. (Very confusing to a new beekeeper trying to find the queen!) That queen happens to be the only one to survive the cut-out. The other two lost their queens when they were hived and made themselves new ones. Some of the bees in the queen-less hives do look like the dark ones, but most just look like mutt bees.

    Over the winter I have canvassed my neighbors (I live in very rural area, so most of my neighbors hunt extensively on their farms) about their knowledge of feral hive locations and have identified several known, long-standing feral colonies within a couple of miles of my farm. One of my first tasks once it gets warmer is to visit these places and see if any colonies survived this miserable winter.

    I am surprised at how many feral colonies there appear to be nearby -- or at least were there last summer.

    Enj.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Ferals

    I'm in an area that has a heavy population of feral colonies. The oldest continuously occupied colony I know of is in a tree at the edge of a graveyard. Bees have been in the tree for 10+ years according to a beekeeper friend. I know of 2 more feral colonies of which one is 5 years old and the other at least 7 years old. I removed a feral colony from a tree on January 20th of this year. It was only 2 years old.

    I don't have any idea what is going on in Europe, but here in the U.S. there is clear evidence feral colonies are a separate population from managed colonies and there is growing evidence the ferals have significant mite tolerance.
    DarJones - 44 years, 10 colonies (max 40), sideliner, treatment free since 2005, 11 frame broodnest, small cell

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Ferals

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul McCarty View Post
    I would suspect you are too far North to get much hybridization with this sort of genetics. It intrigues me that most of the ferals are now pretty dark.
    ,
    Honestly I would agree with that. There is a 1500 hive migratory operation a mile from me that probably brings back african genetics from almond pollination in California in the form of drones every year or feral bees are just becoming darker around here due to predation, climate, etc. My observations are from swarms and cutouts where, when looking from a distance, the 'color' of the swarm/hive can be seen as a whole and the one swarm I caught that was the larger bees looked like a gold coin as opposed to the regular black blob of bees I am accustomed to catching. Ferals are great

    I also visit bee trees where I have done removals and there is one in particular that I have watched for the past 7 years. No treatments, and surpisingly due to its location, no major disturbance from humans. Mites should have taken the hive down after year 3 if they weren't resistant I would think... I would do Hogan style splits off that colony if it wasn't in such an obvious location. I would do it every year until they died out for whatever reason.
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  16. #16
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    Default Re: Ferals

    I almost never get light colored bees from removals. The few I did tested as African and had serious African traits, by the way. Though the meanest I ever found were almost totally black. Not sure what they were. I am part of a study on MtDNA of the feral population. Hopefully we can get some trace remnants of what some of these critters actually were before they got all funky by hybridizing. I believe part of the study is also concerning mite resistance, but not sure.
    NM desert/mountain beekeeper - Black Mesa Honeybees.

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Ferals

    Black aggressive bees could well be a Amm X Carnica cross or Carnica crossed with a dark Amm type mongrel.
    Ruttner did a lot of work on hybridisation and levels of aggression and he found that the Amm X carnica cross produced a vigorous and very aggressive hybrid. Both subspecies are dark so the hybrids will also be dark. There is a chapter he edited where he discusses this called 'races of bee' in Dadant - The Hive and the Honey bee.
    I have come across colonies of dark bees in Ireland which are completely unworkable due to the aggression levels and following.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Ferals

    Quote Originally Posted by Fusion_power View Post
    I'm in an area that has a heavy population of feral colonies. The oldest continuously occupied colony I know of is in a tree at the edge of a graveyard. Bees have been in the tree for 10+ years according to a beekeeper friend. I know of 2 more feral colonies of which one is 5 years old and the other at least 7 years old.
    That seems to be the case, and there is lots of similar comment on beesource. I wonder are any researchers in the US other than Seeley in Arnot Forest monitoring colonies long term to ensure that they are in continuous occupation of a site?

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Ferals

    I live in the south east UK, and collect swarms and undertake cut-outs from an area around 15 miles radius. About half my collecteds are feral probables, and of them half are well attested long term colonies. Some are abandoned hive swarms.

    I've taken chimney swarms three years in a row from the same place. I always ask closely to try to ascertain continuous vs repeated occupation, and are often convinced that accounts of 6 or more years continuous occupations are sound.

    Like others here, some of my bees are distinctly blacker, smaller, and have more pointy abdomens. Others are typical mongrels. I've yet to recognise a distinct race - but I'm no expert in that matter. Apart from the small black ones they all look much the same to me.

    I live where sparsely occupied and often uncultivated higher chalk downland slopes to orchards on heavy clays, interspersed with relatively small fields as often as not holding nectar crops. So its the sort of country where feral bees might well be unaffected by monoculture, though pesicide poisoning might impact. I'm tempted to say lack of good nesting sites might be a limiting factor - there's little in the way of old growth woodland.

    Most of my calls come from the small towns beneath and within the orchard belt, where migration pollination often makes a contribution. I suspect that escapees do well in the towns and farmland margins, and spread as 'survivor' ferals upland.

    I don't treat my bees in any way, and make increase from the best only, and while I'm only in the forth year of a determined effort, it seems to be working. I think my ferals have bought a good measure of resistance, and I've been able to improve it.

    Mike (UK)
    Anti-husbandry: Medication + Reproduction = Continuing Sickness
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  20. #20
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    Default Re: Ferals

    I just recently lost a feral colony that I collected about 5 years ago. They survived that whole time with no treatments and only swarmed once to my knowledge. So there are longer term colonies out there.

    My colony perished to our freezing mountain conditions, unable to break cluster during an unusually long cold snap. I had mixed feelings seeing them go, as they were a tad hot - but they could sure pack away some honey. I figure that is a pretty good run for a colony, and anything beyond they would be in decline, for the most part.
    NM desert/mountain beekeeper - Black Mesa Honeybees.

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